Why femicide continues to rise in Kenya

The 2018 "Global Study on Homicide" report says that most acts of murder are the culmination of abuse and threats in the relationship. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Dr Elizabeth Ngarachu says that the killing of women in the name of love does not happen from random or spontaneous acts.
  • Murderers will not lack anything to blame for their actions. Apart from claims of infidelity and jealousy, they will also blame substance abuse and intoxication.

On the evening of November 16, 2019, Major Peter Mugure led detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the Military Police to an abandoned compound in Thingithu Estate, Nanyuki.

At the compound, Major Mugure pointed at a shallow grave where the bodies of Joyce Syombua, Shanice Maua and Prince Michael were buried.

36-year-old Mugure was the estranged husband to 31-year-old Joyce and the father of 10-year-old Shanice and five-year-old Prince.

He is the main suspect in their brutal murder. Joyce and the two children had been reported missing on October 27 after spending two days at Major Mugure's home at the Laikipia Airbase, Nanyuki, where they were murdered.

They had travelled to see Mugure in preparation for Shanice's 11th birthday.

The home was barely a kilometre from where their decomposing bodies were found, tied up with plastic ropes inside gunny bags.


This incident has left the country reeling from shock. Alarmingly, it is just one among the many rising cases of femicides perpetrated by intimate partners.

On Monday this week, Faith Wangui's body was found in Nakuru. Just like Joyce, Faith had disappeared after she went to visit her estranged lover Joseph Muchiri in an attempt to reconcile.

Her decomposing body was found dumped at Menengai Crater, with her left hand and breast missing, and face doused in acid.

In April this year, Ivy Wangechi's promising life was ended in a gruesome manner by a former schoolmate who was romantically obsessed with her.

28-year-old Wangechi, a medical student at the Moi University School of Medicine, was ambushed by Naftali Kinuthia with an axe as she stepped out of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret. She only managed to scream once.

The murders go on and on. In 2018, 26-year-old Sharon Otieno's mutilated body was found in a thicket hours after she was kidnapped.

The same year, 28-year-old Monica Kimani was found murdered at her home in Limuria Gardens, Kilimani, Nairobi. Her body was discovered in her bathtub, with her neck slit ear to ear.


In May this year, 24-year-old prison warder Pauline Wangari was killed at her home in Kiharu, Murang' a County.

A suspect identified as Joseph Ochieng' confessed to the murder.

A 26-year-old mother of two from Nakuru, Lucy Nyira, died in October from burn wounds inflicted by her husband after she came home late.

While these have been some of the highly-publicised cases, more women have been dying in the hands of men in the name of 'love'.

Over the past 11 months, eight women are killed by men in Kenya every month.

Data from the femicide awareness platform Counting Dead Women Kenya shows that 25 women were murdered by men between January and February this year alone.

Forty-six women were victims of femicide between January and May. By November 16, this figure had risen to 82 cases of reported femicide.

Related data from the Open Africa report on "Femicides in Kenya" shows that 84 women were murdered between January and October 2019 by their boyfriends and husbands.

Nairobi County leads in the body count of murdered women followed by Kiambu and Nakuru.


The 2018 "Global Study on Homicide: Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls" report has also painted a gloomy picture on the status of intimate femicides in Kenya.

The report shows that Kenya is among the countries with the highest cases of female homicides and abuse against women.

For example, 38.5 per cent of girls and women in Kenya aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence at least once in their lifetime.

Twenty-four per cent of these women experienced physical violence in 2018 alone.

"Murder accounts for the highest number of homicides, and the biggest percentage of victims is made up of women," says Reuben Wasilwa, a Nairobi-based consultant psychologist.

For example, the Economic Survey 2019 report shows that in 2018, 2,856 cases of homicide were reported to the police.

"This means that cases of murders against women – who constitute the largest percentage in homicide victims – have been on the rise over the past four years," says Dr Wasilwa.

Murder accounted for the highest share of homicides at 74.3 per cent in 2018.

Dr Elizabeth Ngarachu, a psychiatric consultant based in Nairobi, says that the killing of women in the name of love does not happen from random or spontaneous acts.

"There are factors, traits, and characteristics of the killers that precede these murders. These traits and characteristics are created by motivations such as jealousy, obsession, fear of abandonment, conflict, estrangement, breakups, divorce, religious delusions, and mental illness," she says.


Where the woman is murdered following a break-up or divorce, the global homicide report says that the murder is likely to take place within the first three months of the divorce or break-up.

Some victims of abuse and attempted murder have gone on to forgive and even reconcile with their attackers.

In late September this year, Peninah Wangechi withdrew charges against her husband Samuel Ndirangu who stabbed her during a domestic quarrel.

She was stabbed 17 times on her back, neck, and face, and left for dead.

The 2018 "Global Study on Homicide" report also says that most acts of murder are the culmination of abuse and threats in the relationship.

For example, the majority of killers will either have been identified by the victims, family, neighbours, and even the police as being violent, or the relationship will be seen as unstable.

For example, Mugure and Joyce had been fighting over the paternity of their children. Mugure denied siring Prince.

The conflict escalated and Joyce sought legal help from the children's court. A DNA test to prove paternity was conducted and Mugure was ordered to pay child support after it was determined that he was the biological father.

Joyce and Mugure had been in an on-and-off relationship. Mugure has also been accused by family members of previously attempting to poison the two children.


A 2016 study of 105 men who killed their partners found out that the majority of the killers had ongoing disputes with the women.

They had also been physically abusing them before committing the murders. The study, dubbed "When Men Murder Women", was conducted by Emerson and Russell Dobash, who are renowned researchers on violence against women.

Murderers will not lack anything to blame for their actions. Apart from claims of infidelity and jealousy, they will also blame substance abuse and intoxication.

Unfortunately, the rising body count of murdered women is also fuelled by their rationalisation.

"Where a woman has been murdered out of romantic jealousy, the society may express some remorse, but appear to condone the action by justifying why the victim deserved what they got, and, or why the perpetrator was pushed to such limits," says Dr Wasilwa.

"Where children [are involved] people may justify it with phrases such as, 'The children were killed because their mother pushed him to the edge!'"

This was evident following the brutal murder of Wangechi in April.


Kenya's social media channels were inundated with memes of men holding axes against their fantasy 'gold-digging' and 'cheating' girlfriends.

Wasilwa cautions that while playing devil's advocate may seem like harmless fun to the observers, it does more harm than good.

"The murders are usually not the unintended result of domestic violence that went too far as they are sometimes made out to be. Most of them involve detailed planning and execution. The perpetrator emotionally and mentally readies himself to kill as a form of profound despair, fully aware that he may destroy his own life in the process. This is why some killings end with the perpetrator committing suicide," he says.

Dr Ngarachu also says that widely accepted gender norms about men's authority within the family and their use of violence to exert control over women are some of the factors that precipitate murder in the name of 'love'.

"Communities dictate that men adhere to rigid views about gender and masculinity. This includes the belief that they should dominate women physically and sexually. In cases of intimate femicide, violence is one of the factors that is commonly deployed to assert this domination before the murder," she says.


Previously, it was assumed that men with low education were likely culprits.

But things have changed. Cases of women being murdered by their men are cutting across the educational boundary.

Dr Ngarachu says that a history of childhood abuse, a sense of entitlement, substance abuse, sexual violence, and exposure to domestic violence, are key tell-tale signs that a man may end up killing his woman.

Cases of murders targeted at women have been on the rise elsewhere in the world. The World Health Organisation's report on femicide titled "Understanding and Addressing Violence Against Women" says that 30,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017 by their current or former partners.

50,000 women were killed by intimate partners or family members in the same year.

19,000 of these were killed in Africa. "Six out of every 10 women intentionally killed are murdered by their romantic partners," says the report.